Yesterday was gorgeous. As I glanced out the window to see rabbits nibbling in the grass, birds seemed to be singing extra enthusiastically. By afternoon, temperatures reached the mid-70s, and most of my neighbors were outdoors raking, planting, or putting out lawn furniture. It’s official; spring is here to stay.
If my father were still alive, he would be asking if I’d gotten my potatoes “in.” For as long as I can remember, the rule was to plant your potatoes and onions by Easter. Dad loved gardening and did so until his hands, legs, and hips no longer cooperated. Dad’s family took gardening seriously and used their entire one-and-a-half acre property to grow food. The whole family worked at it, and Grandma canned hundreds of jars of vegetables for them to eat each year. I used to marvel at one room in my grandparent’s basement, lined with shelves filled with canning jars. Such work in a day and age when canned goods from the grocery store were so cheap and available! But that had not always been the case. My grandparents were from another era when resources weren’t always at hand and families were ever-conscious about how they’d feed their children over the year. Gardening to them was about survival.
When I was 10, I wanted a garden of my own, with no vegetables, only flowers. I told Dad, and he seemed pleased. He offered me a small patch of earth next to the back porch. I was thrilled. Of course, I had no money and no ideas on what to plant, but this would be mine to tend. Dad also happened to be a seed-saver and presented me with some old butter tubs filled with seeds he’d collected in the fall. There were zinnias, marigolds, and morning glories. It was a start. He taught me about preparing the soil, scattering the seeds, and gently covering them with a shallow layer of dirt. Every day I gently watered the plot and waited hopefully. In a short time, my seeds sprouted. I monitored how the different flowers developed and how much space they took up, which grew fast, which grew slowly, shrub-like, or required a trellis. I also noticed other plants sprout that shouldn’t be in my garden– weeds. And I learned to pluck them the minute they appeared. That small plot taught me a lot.
When I grew up and moved away to college, spring called to me again. While other kids geared up for finals, looked for summer jobs or played Frisbee on the quad, I tended small pots of cherry tomatoes and green peppers in my dorm room window. I missed home, and knew that my Dad would be working in his garden a hundred miles away from me. Once I was in my twenties, married, and had a home of my own, a garden was part of the plan. Over the years, I’ve lived in many places, and my gardens grew and grew in each location until I began to long for a country life where I could have a large garden and live close to the earth.
After several decades, the big garden became difficult for me to maintain and produced more food than my husband and I needed. In deciding to scale back on projects and maintenance in our lives, we opted for a house with a tiny yard. It’s easier to care for, and now I find new ways to satisfy my urge to grow things. I plant more perennial flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I have a small raised bed where I will grow just a handful of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and eggplants. I’ll grow herbs in small pots scattered here and there, and we’ll raise things indoors as well. My husband grows bean sprouts in a jar. In just a few days we can harvest them to enjoy in salads and on sandwiches. This year we also are growing oyster mushrooms from a kit we found at Walmart. It’s not the type of gardening I’m used to, but I still love learning how things grow and finding that you don’t always have to have more and more land to enjoy gardening. Sun, water, seeds, and a few pots of soil are all you need to experience the magic of growing great things.